Book Review: “The Beatles: Fab Four Cities: Liverpool – Hamburg – London – New York” by Richard Porter, David Bedford, and Susan Ryan

This review is by Amy Hughes

Fab Four CitiesIt’s not an overstatement to say I was very happy to see not only what one would consider a travel guide about and for The Beatles, but one that is lavishly illustrated and beautifully laid out.

The Beatles: Fab Four Cities: Liverpool – Hamburg – London – New York (ACC Art Books, 2021) provides not only an up-to-date showcase of major touchpoints within their universe but also includes numerous anecdotes and descriptions of how all four cities provided links and support along the way from childhood to present day.

Compiled and written by historians well-versed in all things Beatles, ‘Fab Four Cities’ is educational and informative, while sidebar callouts showcase Beatle facts that connect all four cities from a historical perspective.

If you’re intimately familiar with Beatle background information, you might not want to simply skim over the text. Each section provides a rich history inside locations that helped push the band forward. Augmented by latter-day photos, it’s a printed walking tour and provides a helpful supplement if you happen to travel to any of these places.

One important note that ties these together is that all four cities have ports. Not to be lost on how significant this is to the band, Liverpool gave them music, Hamburg gave them a sense of self, London gave them worldwide recognition and New York gave them the US.

The voice that the authors use is genuine and personal: Bedford is Liverpudlian and intimately knowledgeable in that environment; Porter has been a tour guide in London and Ryan is a lifelong New Yorker and tour guide who knows landmarks galore.

However, my favorite section from Bedford and Porter concentrated on Hamburg. While much has been journaled in the last 60 years, I found the words rich in detail, the photos fascinating and the city map was a nice addition (all four city maps are colorfully illustrated).

Ryan’s expertise in covering events, landmarks, and areas connected particularly to John Lennon is of importance for those not familiar with his deep-seated love of the city and his fight to stay in NYC in the early ‘70s.

In conclusion, with a nicely constructed design and pertinent prose (and some pretty sweet images!),

I rate this book 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 

 

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OT Book Review: “Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted” by Sulieka Jaouad

Between Two Kingdoms Sulieka JaouadI made a trip to Target for a couple things and as I perused the book section, I came across Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Sulieka Jaouad. It’s far, far away from being anything music related, let alone Beatles related. Though, she does mention dancing with her circle of follow cancer patient friends to Beatles music at one point. It brought me a warm feeling to know that the Beatles could bring a bright moment into the lives of several people dealing with cancer, chemo and radiation.

Imagine being 22 years old, out of college with a new boyfriend and having just moved to Paris with your whole life ahead of you…when you’re diagnosed with leukemia. Suddenly, all those dreams, plans and the freedom you thought you had are taken away in a flash.

I could feel her pain, and I could feel the pain of her caregivers throughout this book. There were moments when I got angry with her and her selfish attitude towards those who were caring for her as she demanded their time and attention or didn’t stop to realize what they were giving up in their own lives to take care of her. I was the caregiver to both my parents during their cancer battles (which happened simultaneously) and it cost me. I developed panic attacks that would plague me for the rest of my life.

Then there were the moments while reading this book when I wanted to say out loud, “I get ya…I completely understand.” Those moments when you go through the ‘why me’ and ‘where do I go from here’…just like when I (yes ME!) was diagnosed with smoldering multiple myeloma. I will never go through what Suleika has gone through, but I could relate to lying on a table while having the bone marrow biopsy, the bloodwork that reminds you constantly that there is something inside of you that’s not right, and that feeling you get when you go to get a tattoo because it feels like you get to reclaim your body from the parasite within you. And that feeling of living between two kingdoms…the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick.

After her long battle with not only cancer, but a failed love relationship, Suleika sets out on a 15K mile road trip to visit some of the people who wrote to her during treatment…cancer patients, caregivers and even a man on death row in a Texas prison, journaling her trip along the way to create Part II of this book. But after publication of her story, Suleika Jaouad’s leukemia returned and she’s currently back in the hospital going through treatment again while watching her boyfriend Jon Batiste take home four Grammys in Las Vegas.

I wish her well…and I hope she writes a new book on this new chapter and what’s she’s learned about life so far. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Meow! My Groovy Life with Tiger Beat’s Teen Idols” by Ann Moses

Reviewed by Amy Hughes

MEOW! My Groovy Time with Tiger Beat's Teen IdolsDear Younger Self,

Remember when you went to the newsstand at the drugstore with your parents? Looking at all that cheap newsprint, something jumped out at you. The faces! The pop art colors! The headlines with lots of exclamation points! Wait! Is David Cassidy looking at me?! Why, yes he is. And for that you can thank one woman: Ann Moses.

Aptly titled, ‘Meow! My Groovy Life With Tiger Beat’s Teen Idols’ (Q Coding, LLC, 2017) author Ann Moses recounts the life moments she led as the editor of Tiger Beat magazine. This is a highly personal and fascinating glimpse into an era of innocent admiration, yet laced with the stark reality of Moses’ unique, coveted position.

As a teenager growing up in Anaheim, California, Moses had a chance encounter with ‘Uncle Walt’ at Disneyland while working at the Sunkist orange juice kiosk. His encouraging response to her mentioning she had written for the park’s newsletter set her off on her journalistic career.

Volunteering as an usher at the Melodyland Theater in 1965, she had the gumption to approach a gentleman at the side of the stage, stating she was “on assignment” to write about the group that was performing: The Dave Clark Five. The man was their tour manager Rick Picone. He graciously arranged the meeting and Moses got her interview published in her junior college newspaper.

She gained steam writing for ‘Rhythm ‘N’ News’ covering gigs in south Los Angeles (considered unsafe by most for a teenager). However, an off-chance remark from a fellow writer about Tiger Beat (and a connection with former Beatles press officer Derek Taylor) quickly propelled her into the office of the upstart to ‘16’ magazine and the beginning of her mind-blowing journey into the world of teen idoldom.

Throwing aside ‘respected journalism,’ Moses adapted the jargon and lifestyle that appealed to the young, aspiring teens who read Tiger Beat: as noted by her “everyone was presented as single and free.” And using descriptors like ‘groovy’ ‘heavenly’ and ‘fab’ were de rigueur. And as many exclamation points as possible!!

By the summer of 1966, Moses had been cast headfirst into a world of music, photography assignments and close encounters with Jefferson Airplane and The Rolling Stones. Her travels had also led her into the world of Paul Revere and The Raiders, then one of the biggest pop groups in the US, helped by their exposure on TV’s ‘Where The Action Is.’ Moses’ exclusivity to the band and her first-person encounters didn’t help to win her friends with ‘16’’s Gloria Stavers, the matriarch who could power play herself onto the band’s tour bus. Moses was angry and intimidated by Stavers, but recognized she could turn the tables with help from her pop idol peers at any given time.

Moses became feature editor as Tiger Beat’s boss Chuck Laufer handed her more assignments, a handsome salary and a car. She was out and about, meeting people and when The Monkees hit the TV airwaves in September 1966, Laufer’s relationship with Screen Gems gave Moses access unlike any other writer or photographer. While she became close to Peter Tork, Davy Jones and to a lesser extent Micky Dolenz, she hit a roadblock with Mike Nesmith’s abrasive personality (which she didn’t recover from for nearly a year).

Another group that Moses had access to on tour was The Standells. While they were the support act to the Raiders in November 1966, Moses found herself drawn to the band’s lead singer and drummer, Dick Dodd. A former Disney Mouseketeer, his background in show business kept him “un-Hollywood,” as Moses wrote. She also found herself with a major crush on her hands. With this dilemma, she decided to move into her own apartment and later, when she and Dodd slept together, she was left somewhat disappointed and confused. Dodd never called her again. However, a new love was on the horizon.

After attending the Monterey Pop Festival, she details her good fortune in becoming the Hollywood correspondent for UK’s ‘New Musical Express,’ and in July 1967 she flew into the orbit of The Bee Gees. What followed was a whirlwind romance with Maurice Gibb, that at the time seemed destined to be true love. He and Moses set out – first in England and then when she returned home – on a courtship that spoke of intense attraction through shared interests, especially music.

However in the brief weeks that encompassed her life with Gibb, she was blindsided with the news that he had married pop singer Lulu. While he kept his word to attend her twenty-first birthday party, the gathering was the last time she was with him. She later learned that he was in fact not with Lulu (a ploy Moses suspected was instigated by manager Robert Stigwood to keep a clean, freewheeling image alive), although the singers did marry in 1969 (and divorced a few years after that).

Moses’ complete devastation swung her back into covering the pop music scene (and marriage to a high school sweetheart). She continued with various outings (the taping of Elvis Presley’s 1968 comeback special and a subsequent, tho unexpected, conversation with The King on the set of ‘Change of Habit’), but her life at Tiger Beat was going through tumultuous changes.

She continued into the early 70s with (then) up-and-coming teen idols Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy and more personally, The Osmonds (who she stayed in touch with when she later moved to Utah). But in 1972, just as the magazine’s offices were moving to a bigger and better space, she discovered a bombshell: while she made good salary for the times, she was making half of what a sister publication’s editor was making. Floored, she marched out. And while she was coaxed into finishing out publication dates, she left Tiger Beat in May of 1972.

Moses quickly sums up her later years – divorce, second marriage, adoption of two children and a jaw-dropping spoiler from her former co-workers that I won’t mention here. All in all, ‘Meow!’ has the tasty ingredients that pull you into a time warp, reported and lived by a sharp, insightful lady given incredibly fortunate circumstances and access that could only have happened in that era.

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family” by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

The Boys Ron Howard Clint HowardI’m always on the lookout for a Beatles related book that can hold my attention. I’m a huge fan of biographies and first hand experiences as compared to academic studies of the Beatles work and catalog. I’ve been lucky in the fact that Amy Hughes came along and asked if she could review books for this blog since she seems to excel at not only writing reviews, but she also likes reading those books that I can’t seem to get into. Thank you Amy!

About two weeks ago, I saw The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard and Clint Howard on Amazon and knowing that Ron had directed the documentary – The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, I ordered a copy for myself. And lucky me…there was a used SIGNED First Edition for just $11 available!

The best way to describe this book written by Ron and his younger brother Clint is to imagine if the cast of Leave It to Beaver were a real family in Hollywood! We all know that in his younger years, little Ronny Howard played Opie on the Andy Griffith Show and..

a lot of first generation Beatles fans may remember Clint Howard as the adorable little boy with a pet bear on the TV show Gentle Ben. Star Trek fans will also know Clint from a first season episode where he played a 600 year old alien named Balok (Clint was 7 years old at the time).

And who can forget Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days! Well, these two were actually that cute as children growing up with parents who both put their own acting careers aside to support their two sons’ stardom. Not as stage parents…but as loving, supportive parents who were always there as they juggled auditions, rehearsals and stage time while maintaining a normal, all-American family life. It wasn’t always easy, but Ron and Clint tell the story honestly and with undying love and respect for their parents.

Only twice is the word “Beatles” uttered in this book, once when Ron admits to having donned a Beatles wig in his youth and once when he mentions that he was a fan in the 1960’s, but the lack of mentions of the Fab Four doesn’t stop it from being an exciting story of two brothers who were both the same and very different at the same time…but have a never-ending tight bond. It’s a true tribute to the American family and the more beautiful side of Hollywood fame. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beatles!

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music” by David Grohl

The Storyteller tales of life and music david grohlUnfortunately, I didn’t give The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music (Dey St. Publishing, October 2021) by Dave Grohl the respect that it deserves. I actually let it sit HALF READ on the end table next to my couch for a month! Oh…the humanity…I hang my head in shame. But now that my load has been lifted (I work as a temp, but have decided not to take any new jobs this month), I finished it in two days…something that any sane person could have done with the entire book!

Is this book everything you think and expect it to be? Well…yes and no!

Does it contain:

The grungy little details about Kurt Cobain?…no.

When and who Dave lost his virginity too?…no.

Details of his first marriage?…no.

The suggestion that he may have been abducted by aliens?…yes!

The gory details of him falling off the stage and breaking his leg?…yes!

For those of my readers that may are not aware, Dave Grohl was the original drummer for Nirvana and the founder of the Foo Fighters and he is a huge Beatles and Paul McCartney fan. So, if you’re looking for Paul McCartney stories, he doesn’t disappoint. The book is filled with stories of meeting his musical idols and how he himself turns into a ‘fan’ upon coming face to face with them.

As a doting father, Dave also tells of the excitement he feels when he gets to introduce his daughters to rock royalty. Imagine Paul McCartney playing piano with your three year old or Joan Jett reading her a bedtime story! And Dave tells the stories so humbly that (unlike other rocker memoirs) it doesn’t come off as bragging. Along those same lines, you won’t be forced to read through endless tales of his sexual conquests, but you’ll learn how much he loves and respects his mother.

In 375 pages, Grohl covers a lot of ground, but leaves so many things untold. This book will definitely leave you wanting more. And I have a feeling there will be at least one more book to follow this one. After spending much of the book telling stories about being the father of three daughters, the youngest two don’t get their fair share of page worthy stories. Also, in the credits, he thanks his publisher Liate Stehlik, “who allowed me the honor of telling my story (or at least a tenth of it) to the world. Thank you. Someday I’ll have to tell you the rest.” I look forward to hearing them too!

And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Paul McCartney and His Creative Practice – The Beatles and Beyond” by Phillip McIntyre & Paul Thompson

Paul McCartney and His Creative Practice

Reviewed by: Amy Hughes

Paul McCartney is his own definition. He inhabits an environment that pretty much everyone else that isn’t him, finds difficult to describe.

Approaching a study of his creative output in all its facets requires an open mind and an affinity akin to a history of sociology, pop culture and the mysterious process called songwriting.

What Paul McCartney and His Creative Practice (Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture, 2021) achieves is not solely a critical analysis of how he writes a song or a deconstruction of his life’s work. Instead, authors Phillip McIntyre and Paul Thompson couch the theory of flow with the outside influences of his world into a package that has many layers to uncover.

As an explanation to address this book’s function, it is a serious, academic-minded reader for those interested in McCartney’s one-of-a-kind creative process. And although The Beatles take up quite a portion of the text, the vital connections from the end of that tenure right up through 2020’s ‘McCartney III’ examines how he grew as a musician, songwriter, producer, and engineer with ‘a little help from his friends.’

Owing to considerable forethought, the authors bring to the table one of the more enigmatic, yet common perceptions attached to someone of McCartney’s stature: Romanticism. Like the label ‘genius,’ most people associate the concept of Romanticism with awe and reverence. To hold McCartney to that limited definition – minus the technical and personal achievements he gained from others – belies all the pieces that has formed his personal character and musical artistry.

While there is no doubt few individuals can amass the accolades in their lifetime associated with reverent creativity, McIntyre and Thompson also impart significant import to how McCartney’s sociocultural touch points – listening to his father’s piano playing, gregarious family singalongs, and his uncanny ear in picking out tunes – weigh into a system of interwoven related communal support and geographical upbringing.

Weighing this, one can start piecing together the early structure that brought a teenaged McCartney into the orbit of John Lennon and thru that into The Beatles. Often quoted yet undeniable, is the shared experiences all four individuals had as they grew into their musical roles.

While many outsiders gave them opportunities to test the waters, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison (and later) Starr inhabited their own world as they began in Hamburg – Starr with Rory Storm – and found their footing in the hazardous, grueling schedule that honed their playing skills. Critical to the genesis of The Beatles was the departure of Lennon’s classmate Stuart Sutcliffe on bass. McCartney inherited that position more as a “well, it better be you, then” attitude and thus his future was solidified.

As a bassist, his style is fluid and dynamic. However what the general public considers his greatest achievement is his songwriting. While McIntyre and Thompson address his process in three specific cases, his ultimate masterpiece has been and will be ‘Yesterday.’

Effective as McCartney continues to be in extolling the mystical inspiration of its origin, ‘Yesterday’ as deconstructed by the authors paints a more realistic history: McCartney while living with the Ashers in November 1963 did have the oft-told musical dream, and then awoke to play it on a nearby piano. Doubtful that he had actually concepted this original melody, McCartney played it to several people including John Lennon. All assured him it was of his own making.

Yet what became the driving force was McCartney’s belief that it might have come from somewhere in the past or that he had subconsciously heard it elsewhere. While the persona of his habitus instigated this internal questioning, McIntyre and Thompson adhere to many practical instances where McCartney’s childhood spent listening to the music around him imbibed a sense of familiar, encapsulated memories that stuck in his head where he could conveniently pull them out years later. Hence his dogged nature in pursuing this tune’s origin.

Living the professional musician life, McCartney continued to hone ‘Yesterday’ (most famously fine-tuning the “scrambled eggs” placeholder lyrics) over a two-year period. By mid-1965, he had it complete and ready to go. After presenting it to the band and producer George Martin, the consensus was, beyond McCartney and a guitar, there was nothing more to add. While Martin came up with the idea for the string accompaniment (much to the songwriter’s horror), the arrangement was through McCartney’s intuitive ear for tonality. The only surprise that has surfaced since then was what transpired at EMI Studios the day of the recording: McCartney’s first two vocals were ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ and the larynx-shredding ‘I’m Down.’ The strings were overdubbed a few days later and ‘Yesterday’ – finished on June 17 – was infused into the lexicon of songs that will continue to mystify and polarize generations to come.

McIntyre and Thompson also delve into McCartney’s creative collaborations and help to clarify his partnership with John Lennon. As written about in the past fifty-plus years, the duo’s alliance – while popular to imagine as a person-centric perspective driven by mythical free-thinking, self-expression embedded with romanticism – has markedly changed to a more pragmatic, rational-based approach since the dissolution of The Beatles.

Debunking the myths surrounding their singular, isolated genius brainstorming, the authors lay out the dyad of their collaborative partnership. How these two individuals with starkly contrasted backgrounds found their common ground is not unfathomable: both had a shared geographical and sociological connection, a similar interest in songwriting and a love for rock ‘n’ roll.

As their status germinated and grew, both men were forced into tight deadlines and even tighter spaces that had them together with few contacts, except for the inner circle of Harrison, Starr, Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall and Brian Epstein. As the overall arc of their influence permeated the rest of the music scene, the ‘mid-period’ in their alliance afforded more focus, more time in the studio and for McCartney, a more disciplined approach to songwriting.

Although Lennon’s mindset was shifting towards introspective soul-searching, McCartney gave way to taking his fully-formed ideas to Lennon for input and constructive criticism. This worked on many levels, each dovetailing their own unique work habits into the others’ space of works. Each had – through their joined association – the ability to start or finish or bring together the possibilities surrounding them musically. But as they began the transition from simple pop band to respected, critically acclaimed songwriters, the duo drifted apart from their tight-knit bond of collaboration to one of competitive rivals.

Lennon, as the authors note, is one for endless speculative psychological analysis. But McCartney was far less interested in self-examination. While Lennon was the force of nature in the early years, his younger colleague quickly gained speed and surpassed him artistically. From this vantage point, it only seems natural that they would move on personally and professionally. While their global creative world was simultaneously shifting and constraining, it was uncertain at that juncture what was going to transpire for McCartney in the foreseeable future.

What did happen was that McCartney assumed the mantle of jack-of-all-trades. Free from social dynamics and power relationships, he began his complete immersion into the creative system. McCartney was fortunate to have as his mentor a skilled and multifaceted individual like George Martin to learn from. Thus it enabled him to move into a coworker mode, as he worked with Martin on ‘The Family Way’ soundtrack. Independently, he assumed producing duties under the pseudonym Apollo C. Vermouth for The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and then when Apple Records formed, constructing a resume that included Badfinger, Mary Hopkin and The Black Dyke Mills Band.

McCartney moved on after The Beatles to become his own production boss, with gained confidence, and as he was more musically-inclined, trusted the judgment of engineers to help calibrate precisely the technicalities of recording. His esoteric choices in studios were sometimes called into question (cutting the basic tracks for ‘Band On The Run’ in the less-than-hospitable location of Lagos, Nigeria and laying down tracks on boats in the Virgin Islands for ‘London Town’), but no-one could argue that McCartney himself played safe.

He continued to hone his vision through several amalgamations of musical partners – Eric Stewart, Elvis Costello – and then most importantly, McCartney came together with Harrison and Starr to bring back their version of The Beatles (with Jeff Lynne as producer) to re-work demos of John Lennon’s for the ‘Anthology’ project starting in 1994.

Having said that, McCartney expanded his playground of sound to many locations and invited band members throughout the years to give input during those sessions. Even when he built his current studio Hog Hill Mill near his home in Sussex, England he could sometimes butt up against stronger personalities at the board or be at odds with collaborators; as previously mentioned, although Costello was a magical connection, it was a partnership fraught with tension that for whatever reason did not gel with his musical output.

The authors, however, make it crystal clear that despite the metallurgy process, McCartney has deftly blended his vintage leanings – continuing to play his beloved Hofner bass – with the stylistic turns in technology to this day. The authors note in detail McCartney’s musical processes in the studio (he likes to work quickly!) and his laser focus on creating the music at hand with the vast array of instruments he has at his home studio.

McCartney since the ‘60s had shown interest in the esoteric and experimental, in the studio and social situations. As he moved along, his musical output may not have equaled his stellar reputation as he ventured into areas that the general public and critics labeled ‘risky’ and ‘unbearably inept.’ But with his habitus in the singular mode, he forged ahead with electronic music (as The Fireman), orchestral presentations and organizing the Concert For New York after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Another less ventured avenue are his business practices. While a good portion of the popular media took to task his later struggles with Michael Jackson’s acquisition of his catalog, McIntyre and Thompson see with a keen eye the history of that timeline. Early on, his negotiating savvy took off as he acquired publishing rights to various songs that would generate phenomenal earnings. His foray into scriptwriting and acting wasn’t as successful, however his strong preservationist eye had him restoring his old school Liverpool Institute into the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. He also retains a dedicated team at his McCartney Productions Limited (MPL) to help keep in touch with engaging social media and manage his massive tours.

McIntyre and Thompson have undertaken an enormously complex personality such as Paul McCartney and pieced together the diverse domain that he has inhabited since his childhood. Having characterized his position in the musical ‘ecosystem’ as it pertains to the multiple components that he represents, his fully formed knowledge of music has enabled him to be continually relevant and deeply valued to this day.

I give this scholarly book 4 out of 4 beetles

 

 

 

 

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I Saw The Beatles – Episode 45 with guest Jay Mark 

Jay: “Should I turn the sound up?”

His boss: “Don’t bother — you’ll only blow the speakers out.”

Welcome back to episode 45 of I Saw The Beatles! This week’s guest is Jay Mark who worked at Convention Hall in Atlantic City, NJ and was there when the Beatles played on August 30, 1964.

Source: I Saw The Beatles – Episode 45 with guest Jay Mark 02/02 by I Saw The Beatles | Pop Culture

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Book Review: “Harry and Me: Memories of Harry Nilsson by the fans and musicians that loved him the most” by David Roberts and Neil Watson

Reviewed by Amy Hughes

Harry and Me

As a casual listener or a dedicated Harryhead, this loving tribute to the man (and the band) known the world over as Nilsson is as seriously put together as one could hope for.

Harry & Me (This Day In Music Books, 2021) brings us into the atmosphere that inhabits any great tribute from a fan perspective: well-designed with attention to detail, numerous interviews, thoughtful analysis and quotes from the subject himself. And for a Nilsson aficionado, I can’t emphasize enough this is a must-add to your collection.

While this isn’t a straight up biography, what it does fulfill is the outpouring of positive vibes (truly no other phrase fits) that are brought forward about Nilsson. What is especially eye-opening is the diversity in fans, colleagues and contributors’ passages: from those that played with him, helped his career musically, cared about his work and his family and ultimately after his passing, continue to spread the word and not let his legacy stall at his death.

After John Lennon and Paul McCartney gave an official endorsement in 1968, Nilsson’s profile rose stratospherically. While making notices for his songwriting (The Monkees ‘Cuddly Toy’ and Three Dog Night’s ‘One’), his voice became his calling card, rapturously recalled by dozens of fans in these pages. Chief among the highlights was his interpretation of ‘Without You,’ written by Badfinger’s Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Not one single person in this book comes away not untouched by Nilsson’s emotive, soaring delivery and the tragic sad story associated with it’s writers.

Nilsson also gained notice with his cover of Fred Neil’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ from ‘Midnight Cowboy.’ While these songs could have cemented his reputation early on, Nilsson continued to deliver (and as Roberts and Watson gathered for the book) either in collaboration (with Randy Newman) or the revelation on how rock legends Aerosmith got their name.

An informative and recurring feature is Watson and contributor Mark Richardson’s amusing and helpful analysis of Nilsson releases: from ‘Nilsson – Early Years’ to ‘Losst and Founnd,’ both bring their personal memories and picks for tracks… measured in pints of beer!

Another feature is ‘Harry On’ sprinkled throughout in Nilsson’s own words from various interviews given over his career. One can see his laidback, self-deprecating humor, his utter lack of celebrity-ism even when fans who in their own words describe meeting Nilsson at any given time in his life: his home, the recording studio and at fan gatherings. These sorts of insights serve as a reinforcement that despite the sound bite culture of today, we should appreciate Nilsson and soak in at length the down-to-earth person he was.

More than a few fans and colleagues recall his tireless perfection in production and his notorious aversion to live performances. Most of these interviews focus on the ‘what ifs’ had Nilsson thought it worth his while and many fans were overjoyed if they happened to see him in at an informal function or private party where he felt comfortable singing and playing the piano for a small audience.

As far as the ‘discovery’ of Nilsson, the stories that are woven in ‘Harry & Me’ are almost nearly the same: fans and industry insiders speaking in the book found Nilsson on their own and genuinely felt (and continue to feel) an almost cosmic connection. Many were also able to come upon his work through older siblings, chance meetings in record stores with like-minded listeners, pen pals or simply from buying anything and everything they could find. Whether it was ‘The Point!’ (beautifully narrated by Nilsson), ‘Nilsson Schmilsson’ (an undeniable classic) or ‘A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night,’ he affected many demographics and geographics throughout his career.

One could argue though that his career into the mainstream sense suffered greatly with his well-known alcohol consumption. Too many stories abound with the negativity surrounding his drunken escapades and the nadir that became ‘Pussy Cats.’ While there was some good that came from his friendship with Lennon, the direction of his life and music changed after this release. There were several outstanding career moments (stage adaptations of ‘The Point!,’ the ‘Popeye’ movie soundtrack and attendance at fan fests), as Lennon’s death re-charged him as an anti-gun advocate.

Nilsson continued off and on with releases that Roberts and Watson duly note while also bringing in the downturn in his life after a trusted advisor embezzled his production company funds. Many close friends and fans attempted to help him during this part of his life and it’s noted with great sadness that this may have been the long goodbye that Nilsson never fully acknowledged to the public.

As the book winds down and touches with great emotion on his death in 1994, the collective of fans began a push to get Nilsson inducted in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame. While this movement has been an ongoing, heartfelt love letter, it has yet to happen and it’s worth noting that many of his musician friends and collaborators keep the message alive and ongoing.

The overall arc of Nilsson’s contribution to pop music is never without question. ‘Harry & Me’ has brought together the people who truly serve the greater purpose. Someone who had much to deliver on behalf of Nilsson was his son Zak. With a poignancy that can only be seen from the date of publication, this book is dedicated by Roberts to him after his passing from cancer in March of 2021.

In the hopes that ‘Harry & Me’ generates continued beloved insight into Nilsson – with it’s dozens of little-seen images, thought-provoking interviews with supporters and volumes of Nilsson narrative…

I give this book 5 out of 4 beetles (as Nilsson is unofficially a ‘Fifth Beatle!’)

 

 

 

 

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Book Review – Ringo Starr: The Comic Book

Reviewed by Amy Hughes

Ringo Starr The Comic Book

To be honest, I find the concept of portraying the Fabs in comic book form to be a unique prospect. With the advent of graphic novels, the ability to revisit key points in their lives via illustrative media is an intriguing avenue. While the epitome to match would be ‘Yellow Submarine’ (in of itself it’s own tangled saga), the popularity for their story is ripe for comic form.

Ringo Starr – The Comic Book (Tidalwave Productions, 2022) is the latest in a series of short-form comics (via hardcover, Kindle and comiXology) from their ‘Orbit’ collection: biographical comics of people who have ‘made a difference in the world.’ Starr now has his turn in the Fab spotlight and while it’s a nice addition, there is a message.

The focus for the majority of the 26 pages is on Starr’s childhood and the adversity he overcame with his various health issues. Author David Cromarty and illustrator Victor Moura focus on those passages, shown in dark tones and to-the-point dialogue.

Most of the well-known incidents from his childhood thru the hospitalizations and early adulthood are portrayed very simply and with well-placed urgency. As the story ramps up with his interest in the drums and onto his seat with Rory Storm, his form is shown with humor at these key points. His intro into The Beatles is kept tight and ends with his own words as to how they came to understand the mania of their fame.

To be honest, you will find no deep insight here. Starr’s earnest and down-to-earth personality come through and for the most part, this style of storytelling is best aimed at a younger audience for this brief dip into his early ‘Starr-dom.’

I give this comic 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson” by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow

Up Jumped the Devil Robert Johnson Conforth Wardlow“Robert Johnson”

“World’s greatest blues guitarist”

“Went to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil to play the blues.”

These are the things I had heard over the years, but not being into the blues, I had no idea who Robert Johnson was…and this lead me to buy Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow last week and read it in 3 days. It was published in 2021 and just 270 pages (without including bibliography and index).

I’ll admit, I’ve never been a fan of the blues, though a lot of people will say it’s the roots of rock n roll. But after spending years hearing about a mysterious blues artist from the Mississippi Delta that was so good, people said he had to have gotten his skills by hoodoo or the Devil, the only way to find out for myself was to find the best book written about him. And from this list of awards this book has won, I think this one is it.

The Mississippi Delta wasn’t an easy place to grow up in the 1920’s and 30’s. Most black families were sharecroppers working for plantation owners. On the weekends, though, these hard working people would find their release at balls or jukes (without or with alcohol, respectively), dancing and listening to music. This is where Robert Johnson was born in 1911. But he wanted no part of farming, he just wanted to play music. He’d sneak out and sit outside jukes at night just to hear the music. At 11, he built himself a diddly bow on the side of the family shack (strings connected between 2 nails on the side of a house), just so he could play.  Not long afterward, his sister bought him his first guitar and from that moment on, he study and played wherever he could, learning from anyone who could teach him.

How good was Robert Johnson? Listen to Dead Shrimp Blues….a song that people have insisted there was no way one man was playing…there had to be 2 guitar players, they said. But there wasn’t….this was Robert Johnson:

Robert Johnson loved women almost as much his guitar. Families would hide their daughters when they saw Robert coming…”He plays that devil music!” He would be married twice and widowed twice by the age of 25. And just when the time had come for him to become a major musical force at age 27, he was poisoned by the husband of one of his lovers.

Did he sell his soul at the crossroads? Well, this book sets out to find out the true story behind this legend…a man who influenced Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. Well researched, the authors have found more details about this man of mystery…a man who they say would turn his back when playing his guitar, so no one could see how he formed his chords. Now, it’s your turn to decide…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

 

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